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Avoiding Automated Performance

Restak also writes, "In order to achieve superior performance in a chosen field, the expert must counteract the natural impulse to gain an automated performance as soon as possible." When I first started learning guitar, I wanted to play songs—specific songs. In addition, I wanted to play them well. I would practice a song here or a song there, but always the same set of songs and always in the same style. Over time, I played those songs rather well. Had I continued down that path, my guess is that I could have mastered those songs—providing an automated performance.

One day I wanted to play something else. I tried and I failed. I couldn't bring my mind and fingers to play a different type of music or a different song. To do so, I would have had to start over from the beginning and repeat the whole process for the new song. I was always attempting to automate my performance. But what I needed to learn was technique, not automation—so that, over time, it would only take me minutes, not days, to be able to learn a song. I had focused too much on automation and not enough on superior performance.

How much of your testing is like this? How easily do you fall into automated performance with what you do every day? Practice can build new thought patterns—and can also reinforce existing thought patterns. By doing something over and over or repeatedly thinking about something in a specific way, you actually change the way your mind works. Remember that the goal of practice is to stretch yourself and to increase your control over your performance.

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